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Florida’s Longstanding Cohabitation Prohibition Lifted

This past April, Florida finally lifted its prohibition on cohabitation, which has stood as good law in Florida for many, many years.  Measures to lift the prohibition have bounced around the Florida legislature for several years, but often have been shelved in order for the House and Senate to review other bills instead.

The law, which stated, essentially, that unmarried heterosexual couples are guilty of a crime if they live together (“If any man and woman, not being married to each other, lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together, they shall be guilty of a second degree misdemeanor”), has been on Florida’s books for 148 years, first being passed back in 1868, during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln’s immediate successor and when there were only 37 states making up the United States.  When the law was in force, cohabitating couples could (in theory) be subject to a fine of up to $500 or up to 60 days in jail (but the law generally went unenforced due to difficulties identifying whether and how two individuals were engaging in “lascivious” behavior and due to disinterest in the matter in light of changing social norms and limited budgets requiring law enforcement to turn attention elsewhere).

Arguments for lifting the ban were largely made by state House of Representatives Democrats.  Proponents of eliminating the law pointed out that the law as it stood illogically permitted homosexual couples to live together in the manner prohibited by the law with no criminal culpability.  Others noted that the ban prevented young people from living together when doing so would be fiscally responsible or would be helpful and convenient for purposes of affording housing near their universities or educational institutions.  Additionally, representatives for senior citizens observed that the law unreasonably created hardship for elderly citizens, who often lived together with romantic or simply platonic companions to cut costs, because they simply were never officially married under the law, or because doing so assisted them in receiving Social Security and other state-funded benefits.  Finally, sponsors pointed out that the law was outdated in light of recent demographic and social shifts; according to 2014 census data, there are approximately 438,000 unmarried heterosexual couples cohabitating in Florida alone, making up 7.3% of households.

In the Senate, the measure to lift the ban passed unanimously, but in the House, five dissenters voted “no”.  All dissenters were House Republicans, and included the youngest member of the Florida state legislature, Jennifer Sullivan, at age 24.  Governor Rick Scott signed the bill, but has not yet issued any comment on the bill nor regarding his reasons for signing it.  Allegedly, only two states in the United States have remaining cohabitation bans: Michigan and Mississippi.

Family law changes every day, much more often than most average Floridians would assume.  If you are pursuing a divorce or separation, are considering creating a prenuptial agreement or are beginning to organize your estate, are cohabitating with a significant other, or are considering adopting or preparing for children, you may have some family law needs.  At Schwartz | White, our experienced Boca Raton family law attorneys are available to assist you with these and other family law matters.  Qualified family lawyers are up-to-date on the latest developments in Florida family law.  Call 561-391-9943 for a consultation today.

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